“Single mothers are fallen women and grave sinners, whose children are the product of wickedness” – Father Cecil Beaton, Head of the Catholic Social Welfare Bureau, 1952
The severe and judgmental attitudes towards women who became pregnant outside of marriage permeated the ethos of virtually all Church and State agencies in 20th century Ireland. Church and State were bound in their conceptualisation of unmarried motherhood as degenerate and sinful. The tragic outcome of this is that generations of mothers and babies were forced apart.
As an unmarried mother at the age of 21 in the Ireland of 2002, I had the choice to keep my daughter. But in 1975, for her mother, then aged 20, there was no choice and she was forced to give her son up for adoption shortly after his birth. A similar story can be told of two more of Gillespie’s aunts, one as recently as 1985. Stirred by the secrecy and concealment of these events within my family, and inspired by an emerging familial and societal consciousness of the experiences of unmarried mothers and their children, this project seeks to recognise, respect, listen to and hear from those women our society so entirely failed
The control of sexuality by the Catholic Church and the State in 20th Century Ireland was a powerful barrier to a woman’ s ability to make choices about her body and about her newborn child. Soon after the establishment of an Irish free state in 1922, “Mother and Baby Homes” began appearing to house and hide unwed pregnant women and facilitate the adoption of their children into ‘ proper’ , catholic marital homes. Religious orders claim that the newly formed Irish government invited the Church to deal with the growing ‘ problem’ of single mothers. In the adoption process, birth mothers were silenced, restricted from information and generally excluded from participation to the greatest extent possible. Illegitimate pregnancies, births and resultant adoptions were most often treated as shameful family secrets. Many of these homes are infamous for their cruel treatment of unwed mothers
About Emer Gillespie
Gillespie is an Irish artist, currently living in Brighton in the UK. Graduating with an MA in Photography from the London College in Communication in 2009, her work is personal in nature, examining issues around motherhood, alternative family structures and the role that the subject and photographer play in creative collaborations. Gillespie’s most recent project, Fallen Women, is a personal and emotive look at forced adoption in Ireland in the 20th Century, inspired by her own experience as a single parent and my mothers and aunts experience of coerced adoptions in catholic controlled Ireland. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally including Love will tear us apart, Centre Photographic (Claremont-Ferrand, France), How One Thing Leads to Another, Critical Mass, Houston Centre for Photography, She loves me, she loves me not, Encontros da Imagem (Portugal), Family Narratives, RUA RED (Dublin), FFWE, Photographers Gallery (London), Altered States, Foley Gallery (New York), Shifting Perspectives, OXO tower, Southbank (London) and The Space Between at the V&A Museum of Childhood (London).
Most recently, Fallen Women was awarded a Solas Ireland award and was exhibited at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin in December 2015 and is about to be shown, as part of the award, in Gallery Fotohof in Salzburg from the 7th April. I am currently on maternity leave from working as a photography lecturer in the UK
About New Irish Works
Selected by an international panel of 23 professionals, New Irish Works brings you a selection of 20 projects and 20 photographers representing the diverse range of practices coming from Ireland. New Irish Works 2016 is a year long project of 10 presentations and 20 publications that aims to highlight the great moment Irish Photography is experiencing.
The artists selected are Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aisling McCoy, Caitriona Dunnett, Dara McGrath, Daragh Soden, David Thomas Smith, Eanna de Freine, Emer Gillespie, Enda Bowe, Jan McCullough, Jill Quigley, Kate Nolan, Mandy O’Neill, Matthew Thompson, Miriam O’Connor, Noel Bowler, Robert McCormack, Roseanne Lynch, Shane Lynam, and Yvette Monahan.
Every month from July 2016 to July 2017, a special presentation will be hosted at The Library Project for two of the selected artists at a time. The presentation will include a display and a publication for each artist’s project. The two artists that will be presented during PhotoIreland Festival 2016 are Daragh Soden and Mandy O’Neill.
As part of the project, PhotoIreland will bring New Irish Works abroad at key events like PhotoEspaña, with the support of the Embassy of Ireland in Madrid, and to Paris during Paris Photo, with the support of the Centre Culturel Irlandais and Culture Ireland.
Find out more: newirishworks.com